Ooohh, debate… lovely. My previous post 10 challenges for hyperlocal content aggregators certainly got noticed. Thanks Duncan and Cameron for your thoughts. I’ll try to address the major issues below.
First though I should deal with the fact that I work for the online real estate social network StreetAdvisor. I’m the Community Manager, which means I develop ideas about building the audience and community, I write copy for the site and for the blog, I do online marketing and I monitor user generated content contributions to ensure they do not violate community standards (such as being discriminatory or derogatory). I’m not a founder, an owner or a business manager. I make suggestions and recommendations about how the site should function, but I don’t control it.
As an employee, I represent them when paid to do so, but not on my own time. This means that Duncan’s comments are not really relevant. I don’t represent my employer on my own time or in my own blog. I am not an entrepreneur, am not in business, and have no intention of becoming a media business owner or operator. My blog is a hobby, not a business.
I cannot compare StreetAdvisor to Norg or other sites or businesses because I work there, and I know it from the inside. My comments about Norg, Webmenus and others are from the point of view of a member of the public, the audience, the community. My perspective about StreetAdvisor is different, and a comparison is neither fair not pragmatic.
I am not going to provide an inappropriate insight into the activities of my employer (breach of confidentiality), be overly positive about them (no arse licking here) or be overly negative of them (there are easier ways of being unemployed). It’s best for me to leave them out of the debate. I’m not going to comment on the traffic issue that Cameron raises. Anyone can use Alexa.com or Compete.com to analyse web traffic. I didn’t criticise Norg for traffic numbers as such, but more for the fact that the concept behind the site does not seem to inspire users.
Anyone who runs a site also knows that there is a significant difference between traffic (visitors to the site) and participants (signed up members of the site). The aim is to generate traffic, keep the visitors coming back, convert as many as possible to participants, and keep them coming back to contribute. In some ways the conversion ratio from visitor to member is more important than the overall traffic.
Cameron thinks I have missed the point about Norg. I don’t. We’ll have to agree to disagree. I think he missed my main point, which is doubting whether users see participating in Norg as worthwhile; whether citizen journalism is the basis for a stable business. The evidence so far seems to suggest that the answer is no. The incentives to participate are weak or absent. Anyone who wants to share their personal opinions with the world can start their own blog. Platforms that aggregate and host text based ideas do not seem to have the same utility for participants as hosting photos (Flickr) or videos (Youtube).
I don’t need to join a site to share my ideas. Unless I see real value in it, I won’t. I believe many other people think the same way. Even though I technically own the content I create in online aggregating platforms or social networks, ownership is little use unless I am able to use that content in ways that suit me.
For example, if I joined several sites and wrote news stories, restaurant reviews, music reviews and film reviews in them, and could take an RSS feed from each, I could aggregate those feeds into my blog, and put all the content I have created together, along with the content I have placed in Flickr and Youtube, because these platforms allow users to export their content easily.
The fact that Norg and many other sites do not allow users to export their content (Facebook forbids it) discourages me from contributing to them. Again, I think many people have realised this, and are acting accordingly. This is the core principle that Cameron and Duncan have seemingly misunderstood, and that Norg and others have failed to address. For more on this idea, read my original post hyperlocal startups – all take and no give.